20 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Bram Stoker’s Dracula
When we were in our teens, horror movies were all the rage, with big budget films fitting the slasher genre, monster movies, body horror and psychological thrillers.
There were also some big budget adaptations of classic horror novels, one of the most notable being Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
With Halloween just around the corner, what better time to look back at this horror movie classic with some facts about Bram Stoker’s Dracula you may not have known.
20. Gary Oldman hired a voice coach to make his Dracula voice spookier
Gary Oldman always gives his all to his roles, and he didn’t let up on Coppola’s film.
However, he felt there was one thing lacking… a spooky tone to his voice as Count Dracula.
To get his voice just right for his role, Oldman decided to hire a vocal coach.
The coach would help Oldman lower his voice by an octave to give it the ghoulish quality he felt it needed.
After watching the film, I think we can all agree he did a pretty good job!
19. Look closer: the laws of physics work differently when Dracula is around
During preproduction for his Dracula film, Francis Ford Coppola decided to implement an interesting concept.
Coppola decided that the laws of physics would not be the same when beings such as vampires were around.
To convey this, Coppola decided that shadows would move independently, with rats running across the ceiling and water dripping upwards.
This wasn’t the only magic featured on the set, as Coppola had a few tricks up his sleeve.
The team consulted with a real life magician in order to perfect the scene where Dracula’s brides rise up from the bed.
18. The cast did a read-through of the whole novel before shooting the film
Before filming the movie, Coppola wanted the Dracula cast to get a good feel for the story.
In order to achieve this, he got the principal cast of the movie together to do a read-through of the original Dracula novel out loud.
According to Anthony Hopkins, this task took two days to complete.
Coppola wanted to focus on the emotional aspects of the story, and requested that the actors consider this in their interpretation.
Coppola wanted the character of Dracula to be conveyed as a person as in Bram Stoker’s novel, rather than a one-dimensional monster.
17. Mina’s past life recollection secretly references Dracula’s origins
In the scene where Winona Ryder’s character recalls her past life as Elisabeta, she states that she can remember a land beyond a great forest.
It’s a little Dracula easter egg, as the literal translation of the word Transylvania is ‘Land Beyond the Forest’.
The Count’s origins are also referenced in the scene where Dracula serves Jonathan Harker dinner after he arrives at the castle, with the count mentioning his ancestors were members of the Order of the Dracul.
There actually was an Order of the Dracul (Dracul meaning dragon), which was an order of chivalry fighting against the Ottomans in the Balkans in the 1400s.
Vlad Tepes, on whom the character of Dracula was loosely based, was known as “Draculea”, which means “son of the Dragon”, his father a member of the Order.
16. Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder didn’t get along during filming
During rehearsals, Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman seemed to get on well, and even became friends.
However, after they began to start filming, Ryder and Oldman seemed to suffer a falling out and at the atmosphere between the pair on set was tense.
The other cast members had no idea what had happened to cause this bizarre state of affairs.
Ryder later revealed that she ‘felt there was a danger’ whilst working with Oldman, and found the intensity of his acting style too intense.
She went on to explain that Oldman was in the middle of a difficult divorce at the time, and that the pair had since become good friends.
15. Keanu Reeves blamed his much-criticised performance on exhaustion
Keanu Reeves was slated by critics and audiences alike for his performance in Dracula, with one critic describing him as ‘out of his depth’.
Reeves’ attempt at a London accent was also cited as being ‘the worst accent in recorded film’.
One particularly scathing review stated that Reeves had to ‘visibly restrain himself from ending every sentence with ‘dude”.
Reeves defended his poor performance, claiming that he did Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the back of several other productions and he was physically exhausted as a result.
Reeves argued that he had tried to raise his energy for the role but just didn’t have anything left to give, leaving him unhappy with his final performance.
14. Liam Neeson wanted to play Van Helsing
Many high profile actors have played the part of Professor Abraham Van Helsing in various productions of the Dracula story, including Hugh Jackman and Christopher Plummer.
For Coppola’s Dracula, Liam Neeson put himself forward for the role of Professor Abraham Van Helsing and was heavily considered for the part.
Neeson was relatively well known at the time, although not to the extent as he would be post-Schindler’s List.
As soon as Anthony Hopkins showed interest in the role, it was offered to him.
At the time, Hopkins was still riding high on the success of Silence of the Lambs, and had producers clamouring for his attention.
13. The original trailer was dropped because it was deemed ‘too intense’ for general audiences
The original trailer for Dracula had the logo being formed from blood on a jagged surface and then flashes of scenes from the movie.
However, this was deemed too intense to show in cinemas for general audiences and had to be dropped as a result.
The studio also asked producers to remove some of the more gory scenes from the movie.
This was so that the film could retain its R rating, instead of NC-17.
Luckily, the producers willingly obliged and cut the more graphic shots.
12. Gary Oldman took the part because of a single line in the script
When he read through the script, Gary Oldman decided to take the part because he was drawn to one particular line.
Apparently, he loved the thought of being able to say the line “I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you” to someone.
Oldman later admitted that Dracula was never a ‘bucket list’ role for him.
One of the main attractions for him was the chance to work with legendary director Coppola.
It was the actor’s first big Hollywood movie, and the experience was overwhelming for the young, inexperienced actor.
11. There’s only one special effect in the entire film
Coppola was insistent that practical effects were used as much as possible and refused to resort to CGI effects for the film.
After hiring a standard visual effects team, he was disappointed when they told him the effects he wanted to achieve would be impossible without the use of modern technology.
After firing them, he hired his son to achieve the effects using old-school cinematic trickery.
One of the more interesting filming effects came when Jonathan Harker was sitting in the train on his way to Transylvania, and looking at a map which appears superimposed on his face.
This was a live effect achieved simply by projecting the map’s image onto Keanu Reeves’ face on-set.
10. The crew were too embarrassed to ask the Dracula bride actresses to play their scenes nude
On the DVD commentary, Coppola made a startling revelation about what went on behind the scenes.
According to the director, the three actresses playing Dracula’s brides had agreed to appear naked in the film.
However, when the time came, the crew were too embarrassed to actually ask them to remove their clothes.
Coppola resorted to asking his son, Roman, to remind them, but he refused, claiming he was ‘too timid’.
Eventually, Roman delegated the task to a stagehand, who quite happily obliged.
9. Coppola insisted on including ‘Bram Stoker’ in the film’s title
According to Coppola, he included the name because he has a tradition of including author’s names in his titles.
He cites several examples, including Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker.
However, there has been quite some dispute over his claim by others.
They argue that the title had to include the name because of legal issues.
According to them, Universal Studios had claimed to own the rights to simple title ‘Dracula’.
8. Gary Oldman carried a photo of his infant son with him for particularly emotional scenes
In order to fully immerse himself in the role of Dracula, Oldman went to some rather extreme measures.
In the scene where he grieves over Elisabeta’s corpse, he was required to look suitably distraught.
To achieve this, Oldman carried around a photo of his young son Alfie, and would look at it prior to takes for inspiration.
Surprisingly, Oldman also doubled up on this movie, playing the mysterious coach driver when Jonathan is taken into the castle from the pass.
This is similar to in the book, where Jonathan sees no servants in the castle, leading him to conclude that the Count is the sole inhabitant and most likely he was the coach driver as well.
7. The studio forced Coppola to build sets rather than spend all his budget on costumes
Originally, Coppola wanted to focus purely on costumes on Dracula, as he felt that the actors were ‘jewels’ and lavish costumes would emphasise this.
He planned to use highly impressionable sets using only shadows and light to create an ominous atmosphere.
He also wanted to keep props to a minimum for fear it would distract from the actors.
Coppola proposed that he would spend the majority of the costume design budget on these intricate outfits.
However, the studio refused to allow him to do this, and ordered him to build ‘proper’ sets instead.
6. The costume designer had never seen a Dracula film before
Costume designer Eiko Ishioka had never seen any Dracula adaptations prior to being hired to work on the film.
She was initially hired as a the art director, but the producer soon saw that her true talents lay in costume design.
After seeing some of her design sketches, Coppola proposed that she take on a new role.
Ishioka was Japanese, and because the costumes had a Kabuki theater-like appearance, Oldman’s wig maker and hair designer made a point of studying traditional Kabuki and Geisha hairstyles to incorporate them into the unique and elaborate designs.
Each wig was intricately constructed, spending many hours painstakingly threading each hair in a base individually, as is done in traditional opera companies.
5. Gary Oldman was inappropriate on the set
According to an extra who was involved in the movie, during the scene where Dracula first arrives in London and he and Mina meet on the street, there were some problems on the set
Apparently, Winona Ryder struggled to convey the appropriate response to seeing Dracula for the first time.
Luckily (or unluckily) for her, Oldman came up with a… unique way of provoking the correct reaction.
He grabbed a courgette off of a vegetable cart and hid it behind his back when Mina was across the street.
When she approached him, he pulled out the courgette and flashed it in front of his groin, quickly eliciting the reaction Francis Ford Coppola had sought after.
4. Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder may have been married by accident on the film
Mina and Harker’s wedding was a re-shoot done at a Los Angeles Greek Orthodox church.
The ceremony was actually conducted by a real Orthodox priest, which meant that Reeves and Ryder were technically married – or so Coppola, Reeves and Ryder say.
Ryder regularly brings up this fun fact, jokingly claiming that the pair have been married for nearly 30 years now.
According to Reeves, he regularly receives texts from Ryder reading ‘hello, husband’.
He claimed that, at first, he didn’t really believe her. That was until Coppola revealed all on the DVD commentary.
3. The film was originally going to be a TV movie
Ryder first saw the script when it was going to be made as a television movie, which was set to be directed by Michael Apted.
However, Ryder saw promise in the screenplay, and so she decided to take the script to Coppola.
The pair had not seen one another since she had withdrawn from The Godfather Part III due to exhaustion.
The meeting was originally set up to discuss an adaption of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, but she happened to mention the script as she was leaving.
Coppola was keen on the idea and agreed to make the movie, and Apted opted do stay on as executive producer.
2. The movie drew inspiration from other Dracula adaptations
Several elements of the film were taken from previous adaptations of Dracula.
One example is that the scene of Dracula rising from his coffin for the first time is taken from Nosferatu (1922).
The line of dialogue ‘I never drink…wine’ has also been used in several prior Dracula movies, including the original 1931 version.
The idea of Dracula coming to England to find his reincarnated lost love was first featured in 1974’s Dracula.
Finally, the scene where the lunatics in the asylum are rioting to signal the coming of Dracula was taken from the 1979 version.
1. Coppola brought in an acting coach for the erotic scenes
According to Coppola, he felt uncomfortable directing the young actresses in his Dracula film’s more erotic scenes.
Instead, he turned to acting coach Greta Seacat for help guide Frost and Ryder.
However, he did have some input in that he asked Oldman to whisper seductively to Frost during the scene where she is seen on the bed writhing in ecstasy.
She later revealed that the things Oldman said to her were ‘unrepeatable’. Frost had originally not even bothered to audition for the part, assuming she was too physically similar to Ryder.
After Coppola saw her performance in Diamond Skulls, he asked her to take on the role. She would later dye her brown hair red in order to dispel any confusion onscreen.